But what if you need a mid-range PCI Express graphics card today?
You have a couple of options: ATI's Radeon X600 XT and NVIDIA's GeForce PCX 5900, derived from these companies' respective AGP offerings, the Radeon 9600 XT and GeForce FX 5900. Both of these PCI-E cards are available for around $200, and we've rounded up a trio of cards from Abit, Albatron, and Gigabyte to determine which is worthy of your new motherboard's PCI Express x16 graphics slot.
Comparing the cards
Before I delve into the details of each card individually, let's take a moment to compare some important metrics.
|GPU||Core clock (MHz)||Memory clock (MHz)||Memory type||Memory size (MB)||Video outputs||Warranty period||Street price|
|Abit RX600XT-PCIE||ATI RV380||513||742||DDR||128||DVI, VGA, S-Video||15 months*||$181|
|Albatron Trinity PCX5900||NVIDIA NV35||350||550||DDR||128||DVI, VGA, S-Video||3 years labor, 1 year parts||$215|
|Gigabyte GV-RX60X128V||ATI RV380||500||742||DDR||128||DVI, VGA, S-Video||2 years||$190|
The RX600XT-PCIE and GV-RX60X128V are both based on ATI's RV380 GPU, while Albatron's Trinity PCX5900 uses NVIDIA's NV35 graphics chip. Unlike RV380, which is a native PCI Express chip, NV35 was built with AGP in mind. NV35 must be paired with NVIDIA's High Speed Interconnect (HSI) bridge chip in order to interface with a PCI Express x16 graphics slot, and there's been much discussion of whether that's an adequate implementation. At least as far as today's applications are concerned, it's unlikely that ATI's native PCI Express implementation will offer tangible performance benefits over NVIDIA's HSI bridge chip.
PCI Express implementations aside, the RX600XT-PCIE, GV-RX60X128V, and Trinity PCX5900 also differ in their pixel pipeline configurations, memory bus widths, and clock speeds. Here's how fill rates and memory bandwidth pan out in our trusty chip chart:
|Core clock (MHz)||Pixel pipelines||Peak fill rate (Mpixels/s)||Texture units per pixel pipeline||Peak fill rate (Mtexels/s)||Memory clock (MHz)||Memory bus width (bits)||Peak memory bandwidth (GB/s)|
|Albatron Trinity PCX5900||350||4||1400||2||2800||550||256||17.6|
Although the Radeon X600 XT cards' higher core clock speeds yield better single-texturing fill rates than the Trinity PCX5900, NV35's 4x2-pipe configuration offers a higher peak multi-texturing fill rate. The Radeon X600 XT-based cards also have higher memory clock speeds, but they're only running on a 128-bit memory bus. The Trinity PCX5900 enjoys a wider 256-bit path to memory, allowing it significantly more memory bandwidth with lower clock speeds.
Also note that the RX600XT-PCIE has a slightly higher core clock speed than the GV-RX60X128V. More on that in a moment.